The World Baseball Classic kicked off yesterday in Seoul, South Korea, but the games most Americans will be interested in will start Friday, with the United States facing off against Colombia in Marlins Park. Americans will also likely have a lot of interest in the games in Mexico. Italy and Mexico have quite a few recognizable major leaguers between them, but Venezuela and Puerto Rico are loaded with major leaguers and lots of famous names.
Puerto Rico had a surprisingly good run in the 2013 WBC. They were able to upset Venezuela and the United States on their way to the finals against the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, they were unable to overcome the Dominican Republic juggernaut, who beat them at the end of their undefeated run to the championship title.
This boricua believes that this year’s Puerto Rican team is objectively the greatest WBC team ever and will go undefeated to the championship. All other teams will cower in their wake.
(Okay, okay, maybe I’m being just a little biased. It’s still a good team, though.)
If you take a look at the Puerto Rican roster in 2013, you can see that there wasn't much there in terms of major league talent. The 2017 team, on the other hand, features some of the best young players in the game. Francisco Lindor at shortstop, Javier Báez at second base, and Carlos Correa at third base are three exciting young phenoms (to varying degrees). They combined for 15 WAR in 2016, per Baseball Reference. Another young star that gets overlooked is relief ace Edwin Díaz. The Mariners’ decision to convert him to a reliever is paying off big time. In his debut season, he had a 2.79 RA9 and 2.37 DRA, striking out a whopping 40 percent of hitters faced. He will undoubtedly be the guy to close games or get the team out of late-inning jams.
At the other end of the spectrum are two all-time great Puerto Rican players: Carlos Beltrán and Yadier Molina. Their best days are behind them, but they are both still productive baseball players. At age 39, Beltrán hit .295/.337/.513 with 29 HR in 2016. He is listed as an outfielder, but it would be best for him to DH as much as possible. The other outfielders on the roster should be much better defensively. Meanwhile, Molina continues to defy catcher aging curves. In 2016, he hit .307/.360/.427, which combined with his pitch framing made him worth 4.2 WARP.
The Puerto Rican team is going to need those pitch framing skills and anything else Molina can do for the pitching staff, because it is a weakness. It is hard to argue that the United States, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela do not have much better starting pitchers.
Hector Santiago — who coincidentally, like me, is of Puerto Rican descent and was born and raised in New Jersey — is the only current, established starter on this roster. In 2016, he had a 4.95 RA9 with strikeout and walk rates that were worse than average. While he is more talented than a lot of the starting pitchers in the WBC, the Puerto Rican team's lack of depth puts it at a disadvantage. José Berríos and José De León have struggled during their brief time in the majors, but the talent is there. The team is going to need their best in order to compete with the countries mentioned above.
The Puerto Rican team is a strong, competitive one, but they really could have used Nolan Arenado and George Springer, both of whom are eligible to play for Puerto Rico because they each have a parent from there. Arenado was “strongly considering” playing for Puerto Rico, but instead opted to play for the United States. Springer had originally decided to play for the United States, but later decided to opt out of the WBC entirely.
Both Arenado and Springer were heavily recruited for the Puerto Rican team. Arenado would have forced Correa to move to first base or the outfield, but can you imagine an infield with him, Lindor, and Báez? That monster defensive infield could have really helped the pitching. Springer is quite the defender himself in the outfield as well. He easily would have been the best outfielder on the roster.
Let’s be honest about one thing: For all the analysis one can throw at each team, the maximum number of games a team can end up playing is nine. If the MLB postseason is a crapshoot — and it is — then so is the WBC. Still, it is a great exhibition for displaying the world’s talent and growing the game. With real baseball still about a month away, the WBC should provide for an entertaining next couple of weeks, especially if the Puerto Rican team can once again make a run.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.